CLOSE
Original image
Getty Images

9 Stars Who Played Themselves

Original image
Getty Images

In the hit apocalyptic comedy This is the End, Seth Rogen (who co-wrote the film with his frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg), James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Emma Watson, Aziz Ansari, and Rihanna are just some of the stars to appear as themselves in the jam-packed flick. Well, at least an intentionally over-the-top variation of themselves. As Danny McBride (who is portrayed as a Channing Tatum worshipper turned cannibal in the deranged comedy) explained to ScreenRant.com, "Everybody is definitely portrayed in a way that is a little more grotesque than they normally are." Take, for instance, Michael Cera playing himself as a coked-up, Capri Sun-sipping d-bag, or Mindy Kaling playing herself as someone who wants to have sex with that particular Michael Cera. (Though, in our minds, we'd like to imagine that Watson really would steal all of McBride's stuff like she does in the trailer.)

But the crop of current Hollywood stars that appear in This is the End is hardly the first to play an embellished version of themselves on the big or small screen. Here are nine of the most outrageous times a star played themselves ... or someone like them.

1. Kate Winslet on Extras

On his comedy series Extras, creator/star Ricky Gervais had a knack for getting esteemed British actors and actresses to play crass, clueless, or downright cruel versions of themselves. Whether it was a perv-y Sir Patrick Stewart spending an uncomfortable amount of time coming up with ways to get ladies naked or a sexually ambitious Daniel Radcliffe literally waving condoms around, all they had in common with these "characters" was their namesake. Fellow universally-liked star Kate Winslet played "herself" in an uproarious season 1 episode in which the actress was portrayed as a cynical, un-PC star who only chose to be in a Holocaust movie because it would win her accolades. In a delicious bit of irony, three years later the humble and good-humored Winslet would go on to win her first long-overdue Oscar ... for appearing in a Holocaust movie. Even better, Gervais made a crack about the coincidence during his 2009 Golden Globes hosting stint.

2. Liam Neeson on Life's Too Short

Thankfully, when it came to stars playing the worst possible version of themselves, Gervais didn't stop with Extras. Even though his follow-up, Life's Too Short, didn't hit quite the same nerve, Liam Neeson's appearance as a stoic, unintentionally hilarious Liam Neeson made the whole series worthwhile. In his instant classic segment, "Liam Neeson" wanted to make his segue into stand-up and sketch comedy with terribly unfunny bits about contracting "full-blown AIDS" and getting his role as Oskar Schindler in Schindler's List because he loved making lists. Turns out, Liam Neeson is pretty damn funny after all.

3. Neil Patrick Harris in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

How I Met Your Mother may have propelled former child star Neil Patrick Harris back onto the A-list, but it was his appearance in the cult 2004 stoner comedy Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle that really transformed him from Doogie to legendary. In the movie, NPH is an insane, Ecstasy-riddled hitchhiker on the hunt for, as he not so delicately puts it, "poon tang." Just a little bit of a departure from the homosexual father of two in a long-committed relationship with a penchant for musical theater and being one of the most-liked guys in Hollywood. But the stunt casting worked: The cameo put Harris back on the map and helped spawn two Harold & Kumar sequels, both of which he appeared in as "himself."

4. James Van Der Beek on Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23

Dawson's Creek star James Van Der Beek has always had a good sense of humor about himself and his status as a former teen heartthrob, but that very same sense of humor about fame and his place in Hollywood was never better than when he played "himself" in the all-too-short-lived ABC comedy Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23. In the series, Van Der Beek played a raging egomaniac and single Lothario (in real life, the 36-year-old is a married father of two), but anyone with that big of an ego would never be willing to play someone so scummy with their same name.

5. Matt LeBlanc on Episodes

Matt LeBlanc earned a Golden Globe (it's no Soapie, but still pretty damn impressive) for his performance as ... Matt LeBlanc. The former Friends star plays a dopey, desperate version of himself on the Showtime satire. In fact, LeBlanc is such a jerk on Episodes that all of his Friends castmates have turned against him or downright hate him since their hit show wrapped. That's a fate far worse than Joey.

6. John Malkovich in Being John Malkovich

Everything is a little bit off in Spike Jonze's brilliant, but infinitely bizarre, Being John Malkovich ... including John Malkovich himself. Sure, the Oscar-nominated actor is a little bit strange, but he most certainly doesn't have a portal that leads you into his brain and allows you to experience the world as John Malkovich. (At least, we're pretty sure he doesn't.)

7. Cate Blanchett in Coffee and Cigarettes

Cate Blanchett is a effortlessly cool and stunningly beautiful actress, so we'd say that her turn as herself in 2003's Coffee and Cigarettes wasn't much of a stretch as an effortlessly cool and stunningly beautiful actress named Cate Blanchett. Then again, it's a safe bet the real Cate Blanchett doesn't often find herself having bizarre, uncomfortable meetings with a cousin who looks exactly like her.

8. Howard Stern in Private Parts

You either love Howard Stern—or love to hate him. Of course, if you saw his biographical 1997 film Private Parts, your opinion of the shock jock may have changed, whichever side you fell on. Stern played himself in his life story and the most shocking thing of all turned out to be that the humorous host wasn't just the loudmouth misogynist we tuned into (or as far away as possible from) on our radio dial during our morning commutes, but an ambitious, surprisingly human, and yes, even a little bit sweet, regular guy with some big dreams.

9. Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm

Out of everyone on this list, Larry David is probably the closest to his "Larry David" on the master class in awkward comedy, Curb Your Enthusiasm (which is chock full of stars playing variations of themselves). He's a neurotic, a curmudgeon, a tremendous talent, a total bastard, and above all, a comedy genius. Of course, if the real-life David was anything remotely like his on-screen likeness, he'd probably have burned every bridge in Hollywood by now because he's pretttt-ay, pretttt-ay, prettttttt-ay annoying.

Original image
Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
The Time That Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Opened Competing Restaurants on the Sunset Strip
Original image
Getty Images

From 1946 to 1956, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were show business supernovas. With an act that combined singing, slapstick, and spontaneous hijinks, the duo sold out nightclubs coast to coast, then went on to conquer radio, television, and film. Long before Elvis and The Beatles came along, Dean and Jerry  were rock stars of comedy.

Offstage, there was a cordial but cool friendship between the laidback Martin and the more neurotic Lewis. But as the pressures of their success increased, so did the tensions between them. Martin grew tired of playing the bland romantic straight man to Lewis’s manic monkey boy. And when Lewis started to grab more headlines and write himself bigger parts in their movies, Martin decided to quit the act. In an angry moment, he told Lewis that he was “nothing to me but a f**king dollar sign.”

After the split, both men went on with their individual careers, though it took Martin a few years before he regained his footing. One of his ventures during that transitional period was a Hollywood eatery called Dino’s Lodge.

DINO'S LODGE

In the summer of 1958, Martin and his business partner, Maury Samuels, bought a controlling interest in a restaurant called The Alpine Lodge, at 8524 Sunset Boulevard. They hired Dean’s brother Bill to manage the place, and renamed it Dino’s Lodge.

Outside they put up a large neon sign, a likeness of Dean’s face. The sign turned into a national symbol of hip and cool, thanks to appearances on TV shows like Dragnet, The Andy Griffith Show, and most prominently, in the opening credits of 77 Sunset Strip.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dino’s Lodge was popular from the get-go, serving home-style Italian food and steaks in an intimate, candlelit, wood-paneled room meant to replicate Martin’s own den. In the first year, Dean himself frequented the place, signing autographs and posing for photos with starstruck diners. He also occasionally brought along famous friends like Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine. To promote the idea of the swingin’ lifestyle that Martin often sang about, Dino’s served “an early morning breakfast from 1 to 5 a.m.” The restaurant also had a lounge that featured singers, though only females. Dean apparently didn’t want any male vocalists encroaching on his turf.

But as with many a celebrity venture into the food business, this one soon turned sour. And most of that was due to the jealousy of Jerry Lewis.

JERRY'S

In late 1961, Lewis wooed Martin’s business partner Maury Samuels away, ponied up some $350,000, and opened his own copycat restaurant three blocks down Sunset. It was called Jerry’s. To make it clear he was out for top billing, Lewis had his own likeness rendered in neon, then mounted it on a revolving pole 100 feet above his restaurant. In contrast to Dino’s Italian-based menu, Jerry’s would serve “American and Hebrew viands.” Lewis didn’t stop there. Within a few months, he’d hired away Dino’s top two chefs, his maître d', and half his waitstaff.

Wire Photo, eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When Lewis was in Los Angeles, he made of point of table-hopping and schmoozing with his guests at his restaurant, and he occasionally brought in a few of his celebrity friends, like Peggy Lee and Steve McQueen.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

By the following year, a disgusted Dean Martin was fed up with the restaurant business and cut ties with Dino’s Lodge. Much to his aggravation, he lost a motion in court to have his likeness and name removed from the sign. So the new owners carried on as Dino’s Lodge, with the big neon head staring down on Sunset for another decade before the place finally went bust.

Jerry’s lost steam long before that, folding in the mid-1960s.

For the rest of the 1960s and the early 1970s, Martin and Lewis avoided each other. “Jerry’s trying hard to be a director,” Dean once told a reporter. “He couldn’t even direct traffic.”

In 1976, Frank Sinatra famously engineered an onstage reunion of the pair during The Jerry Lewis Telethon. While the audience roared their approval, Sinatra said, “I think it’s about time, don’t you?” And to Sinatra, Lewis said under his breath, “You son of a bitch.”

What followed was an awkward few moments of shtick between the former partners. Reportedly, Martin was drunk and Lewis was doped up on painkillers. There was a quick embrace, Martin sang with Sinatra, then blew Lewis a kiss and disappeared from his life for good. Martin died in 1995. Lewis passed away today, at the age of 91.

Original image
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
10 Witty Facts About The Marx Brothers
Original image
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

Talented as individuals and magnificent as a team, the Marx Brothers conquered every medium from the vaudeville stage to the silver screen. Today, we’re tipping our hats (and tooting our horns) to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo—on the 50th anniversary of Groucho's passing.

1. A RUNAWAY MULE INSPIRED THEM TO TAKE A STAB AT COMEDY.

Julius, Milton, and Arthur Marx originally aspired to be professional singers. In 1907, the boys joined a group called “The Three Nightingales.” Managed by their mother, Minnie, the ensemble performed covers of popular songs in theaters all over the country. As Nightingales, the brothers enjoyed some moderate success, but they might never have found their true calling if it weren’t for an unruly equid. During a 1907 gig at the Nacogdoches Opera House in East Texas, someone interrupted the performance by barging in and shouting “Mule’s loose!” Immediately, the crowd raced out to watch the newly-liberated animal. Back inside, Julius seethed. Furious at having lost the spotlight, he skewered his audience upon their return. “The jackass is the finest flower of Tex-ass!” he shouted, among many other ad-libbed jabs. Rather than boo, the patrons roared with laughter. Word of his wit soon spread and demand for these Marx brothers grew.

2. THEY RECEIVED THEIR STAGE NAMES DURING A POKER GAME.

In May of 1914, the five Marxes were playing cards with standup comedian Art Fisher. Inspired by a popular comic strip character known as “Sherlocko the Monk,” he decided that the boys could use some new nicknames. Leonard’s was a no-brainer. Given his girl-crazy, “chick-chasing” lifestyle, Fisher dubbed him “Chicko” (later, this was shortened to “Chico”). Arthur loved playing the harp and thus became “Harpo.” An affinity for soft gumshoes earned Milton the alias “Gummo.” Finally, Julius was both cynical and often seen wearing a “grouch bag”—wherein he’d store small objects like marbles and candy—around his neck. Thus, “Groucho” was born. For the record, nobody knows how Herbert Marx came to be known as “Zeppo.”

3. GROUCHO WORE HIS TRADEMARK GREASEPAINT MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE HATED MORE REALISTIC MODELS.

Michael Ochs Archives/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Phony, glue-on facial hair can be a pain to remove and reapply, so Groucho would simply paint a ‘stache and some exaggerated eyebrows onto his face. However, the mustache he later rocked as the host of his famous quiz show You Bet Your Life was 100 percent real.

4. HARPO WAS A SELF-TAUGHT HARPIST.

Without any formal training (or the ability to read sheet music), the second-oldest Marx brother developed a unique style that he never stopped improving upon. “Dad really loved playing the harp, and he did it constantly,” his son, Bill Marx, wrote. “Maybe the first multi-tasker ever, he even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play when he sat on the toilet!”

5. THE VERY FIRST MARX BROTHERS MOVIE WAS NEVER RELEASED.

Financed by Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and a handful of other investors, Humor Risk was filmed in 1921. Accounts differ, but most scholars agree that the silent picture—which would have served as the family’s cinematic debut—never saw completion. Despite this, an early screening of the work-in-progress was reportedly held in the Bronx. When Humor Risk failed to impress there, production halted. By Marx Brothers standards, it would’ve been an unusual flick, with Harpo playing a heroic detective opposite a villainous Groucho character.

6. GUMMO AND ZEPPO BECAME TALENT AGENTS.

World War I forced Gummo to quit the stage. Following his return, the veteran decided that performing was no longer for him and instead started a raincoat business. Zeppo—the youngest brother—then assumed Gummo’s role as the troupe’s straight-talking foil. A brilliant businessman, Zeppo eventually broke away to found the talent agency Zeppo Marx Inc., which grew into Hollywood’s third-largest, representing superstars like Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and—of course—the other three Marx Brothers. Gummo, who joined the company in 1935, was charged with handling Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s needs.

7. CHICO ONCE LAUNCHED A BIG BAND GROUP.

Chico took advantage of an extended break between Marx brothers movies to realize a lifelong dream. A few months before The Big Store hit cinemas in 1941, he co-founded the Chico Marx Orchestra: a swinging jazz band that lasted until July of 1943. Short-lived as the group was, however, it still managed to recruit some amazing talent—including singer/composer Mel Tormé, who would go on to help write “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” in 1945.

8. THEY TESTED OUT NEW MATERIAL FOR A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN FRONT OF LIVE AUDIENCES.

With the script still being drafted, MGM made the inspired choice to let the brothers perform key scenes in such places as Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Once a given joke was made, the Marxes meticulously timed the ensuing laughter, which let them know exactly how much silence to leave after repeating the gag on film. According to Harpo, this had the added benefit of shortening A Night at the Opera’s production period. “We didn’t have to rehearse,” he explained. “[We just] got onto the set and let the cameras roll.”

9. GROUCHO TEMPORARILY HOSTED THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Jack Paar bid the job farewell on March 29, 1962. Months before their star’s departure, NBC offered Paar’s Tonight Show seat to Groucho, who had established himself as a razor-sharp, well-liked host during You Bet Your Life’s 14-year run. Though Marx turned the network down, he later served as a guest host for two weeks while Johnny Carson prepared to take over the gig. When Carson finally made his Tonight Show debut on October 1, it was Groucho who introduced him.

10. SPY MAGAZINE USED A MARX BROTHERS MOVIE TO PRANK U.S. CONGRESSMEN.

Duck Soup takes place in Freedonia, a fictional country over which the eccentric Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) presides. In 1993, 60 years after the movie’s release, this imaginary nation made headlines by embarrassing some real-life politicians. Staffers from Spy got in touch with around 20 freshmen in the House of Representatives, asking some variation on the question “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?” A few lawmakers took the bait. Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida) professed to approve of America’s presence in Freedonia, saying, “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.” Across the aisle, Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) concurred. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s a different situation than the Middle East.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios